Monday, March 16, 2009

Conservative Party Pushes to Protect Incumbent Candidates

Representative democracy in Canada was recently dealt another blow as political parties move to protect incumbent MPs from facing contested constituency nominations. The Hill Times is reporting on the details of recent decisions of the Conservative and Liberals parties to make nomination challenges against incumbents more difficult to mount.

The Conservative barrier is significantly more onerous in that an incumbent candidate will only face a nomination challenge if 2/3 of the local constituency membership petition the National Party office for a nomination. The reality is any challenger has to win two times to be successful. First they need a large majority of the current members to ask for a nomination and, if 2/3 of them agree, the challenger then has to win the actual nomination.

Perhaps in reality if a constituency membership is upset enough with their candidate that 2/3 ask for a nomination process, they may see the writing on the wall and demur. Or, given the combative nature of politics, it may cause the opposite reaction and result in some serious dirty and deceitful politics to rule the day.

This is a disaster for the 90%+ of Canadians who do not belong to political parties and only actively engage in the political process at election time. There is already a strong resistance amongst Canadians to join political parties so the candidate selection game is already rigged in favour of those of us how belong to political parties. With this change in the Conservative Party nomination process, the nomination process becomes an even greater rigged auction. The "reserve price" on a nomination is set so high that nobody will or can pay it. So the status quo prevails.

The other natural consequence of such a rigged system of candidate selection is we protect mediocrity as well as merit. The top down central office control of the incumbents and the nomination apparatus puts even more power in the party executive, the leader and his inner circle of advisers.

The Liberals have used a carrot to protect incumbents. To stay "protected" in their nomination, they have to prove to the party headquarters that they have until June to recruit 400 members in their riding associations and at least 40 "Victory Fund" donors who donate $10 or more on a monthly basis, $5 to the party headquarters, and the other $5 to the riding association.

The Liberals need money and manpower to run an election and that is clearly what is behind this move to jack up the performance requirements of incumbent candidates. It will be interesting to see what happens to those candidates who fail to achieve this goal. Will they see the party headquarters actively recruit alternate candidates to run against them? I doubt it will be the norm but I full expect it will happen. Liberal candidates who go through the motions at election time who still believe they represent "the natural governing party of Canada" will be in for a rude awakening.

The NDP have no such protections for incuments. Each and every candidate must earn the support of the local constituency membership for each and every election...just as it ought to be.

What this all means for the Canadian voter is not good. We have not attracted our best and brightest into public life for quite some time. The Conservative move will embed the incumbents and demoralize potential challengers. Politicians for life will the net result in the Conservative ranks, especially in Alberta seats where the Conservatives have a vice grip like hold on seats.

What are we to do about this? Well there is not much we can do. Political parties are private "clubs" that are ostensibly controlled by the membership. Without a party membership ordinary citizens are shut out of this vital part of the overall political process. We only get to chose between party candidates at election time.

With only 40% of eligible voters bothering to participate by at least showing up to vote this move by the Conservative Party only serves to further disillusion citizens and alienate them from their so-called democracy.

There is a crying need for serious governing and democratic reform in all orders of government in all corners of Canada.